Rotstein makes every word sing
Collection spans 35 years
The Canadian Press
June 16 2002
Poet Nancy-Gay Rotstein finds shards of inspiration most every place
she goes, selectively vacuuming up images, ideas, emotions and
insights that later are fashioned into one of her eloquent,
But she doesn't sit around waiting for her inspirations to age, to
mature. She gets straight to work.
joy of my work is in the act of writing," she says, adding that she
often pulls out a notebook and starts writing on the spot "And it is
a humbling experience when just the right word shows up - it's like
Now, as a gift to her farflung fans, Rotstein, who lives in the
Toronto area, has published This Horizon and Beyond, a collection of
poems over the last 25 years that includes many new or previously
The scope is vast, ranging from her family circle and the cribside
of her baby daughter, through her extensive world travels to China,
Italy, Japan, Israel, her passion for the Canadian landscape and her
cunning snapshots of people everywhere, crafted in poem portraits of
friends and observed strangers.
Rotstein, 58, and mother of three grown children, started in law
school at age 39.
Although she is a member of the Ontario bar and has a master's
degree in history, she has never practised law.
But she's been busy, serving on such boards as the Canada Council,
the National Library and Telefilm Canada.
Her earlier books, translated into many languages and widely
published, include Through the Eyes of a Woman (1975), Taking Off
(1979) and China: Shockwaves (1987), the result of being granted a
rare no-restrictions travel visa by the Chinese government in 1980.
Her only novel, Shattering Glass, has been translated into eight
Poet Irving Layton, in a rather adoring foreword, writes that
Rotstein's new 170-page volume presents poems that "possess a hard,
flinty, classical quality."
"There is not a word that is superfluous. There is not a word that
does not go straight for its mark and say what it wants to say."
In return, Rotstein saluted Layton, whom she thinks of as a pretend
curmudgeon with a generous heart, in her poem Greatness: "Great old
bear you fooled them all, critics, interviewers with your hauteur
and ripe illusions."
Although she was a published poet at age 12-her grandmother secretly
submitted a poem to Chatelaine magazine, which ran it - she remained
a secret scribbler for years before submitting works on her own.
Her reach is boundless, from lightweight subjects such as-in Rummage
Sale ("who shall claim you for fifty cents?") to snipes at
corporate arrogance in Power- "they tilt champagne in padded
boardrooms and toast success.. they have captured our world and hold
us all to ransom."
She writes of war and rape, of her distant travels, of a mother,
face glowing, cradling the enlarged head of her handicapped son,
soaring, in Carousel.
In The Visitor she evokes the terrible tragedy of French army
officer Alfred Dreyfus, imprisoned on spurious charges "of
espionage, victim of injustice and anti-Semitism:
"I saw Alfred Dreyfus at the Bagel Bar... his eyes schooled in
sadness... Tears pock his prison-pallored face..."